Allergies and Reasonable Expectations for Airlines


My sister is currently employed as a flight attendant with a Canadian-based airline company. I recently made a point of sitting with her and discussing what expectations are reasonable for both airline staff and passengers when it comes to allergies in the air.

On more than one occasion, passengers with food allergies have put my sister in an awkward position. For example, a parent informs her of her child’s allergies and attempts to take the meal that is being offered. My sister reiterates that she does not know whether or not the flight meals have come into contact with allergens as they are prepared by a different service on the ground. Here are some reasonable expectations that crew and airline staff have of those travelling with allergies:

1)  Bring Your Own Food/Snacks- As much as we would like to be accommodated and included in the airline meal service, bringing your own food is always the safest bet.

2)  Carry Your Medication- Some airlines may have their own epinephrine on the flight; but you should always be responsible and carry your auto-injector with you at all times.

3)  Stock Up on Disinfectant- Wanting to wipe down the armrests, food trays and any other surfaces of the airline is totally reasonable. Despite the cleaning crews’ diligent work, germs are still present. Most airline staff are very understanding of this; however, most do not have any type of disinfectant wipes / sanitizer present. B.Y.O.S- Bring your own sanitizer.

4)  Be Understanding and Polite- Most airline staff will do what they can to help you. It is important to be understanding of their limitations too! The more patient and polite you are to them, the more likely it is that they will provide you with amazing service.

As for airlines in general, most of their duties are regulated and the policies change from company to company. However, here are some things that I think would be reasonable to expect of airline staff when travelling.

1)  Aware- I would appreciate it if staff had some form of familiarity with allergies. They don’t have to be an expert on the topic; but it would be nice if the staff were at least competent enough to assist a passenger allergies.

2)  Announcement– I think it is a pretty reasonable request for airline staff to make an announcement informing passengers to refrain from eating your allergen.  Although it is hard to expect that everyone on board will abide by the request; but it definitely helps raise awareness among the aircraft passengers and reduces the chances of you coming into contact with your allergens.

3)  Understanding- Airline staff should understand where allergic-folk are coming from. No I’m not a flight risk. And I’m really not trying to be difficult! I am just trying to ensure that I’m safe in my sparingly small space at 40,000 feet in the air! Reassuring an allergic passenger is always a plus.

4)  Offer- We know that you don’t have a restaurant on-board; but if the menu options are a ‘no-go’ for us, we do appreciate an offer for an alternative. Chances are, we have our own food packed. But it does mean a lot to hear airline staff make safe suggestions.

What have your experiences with Airlines and your allergies been like? Comment below!


5 thoughts on “Allergies and Reasonable Expectations for Airlines”

  1. I’m currently planning a trip to Angola, with a stopover in the UK and a layover in Germany.

    I’ve travelled with an allergy before, but now I’ve added 12 new allergens to the list and two of those are severe. I plan on getting copious amounts of doctor’s notes, etc, and I’m fine with other people in the plane eating my allergens… But I need food options.

    So, here’s the question. What do you folks bring with you as your food for flights? I also have back issues so I’m mostly thinking of camping food, but I’d love some fresh food options that travel well?


    1. Hi Janice,

      I make a lot of my own food (breads, snack bars, etc.) that I know will stay reasonable fresh for the duration of my travel time from beginning to end.

      The one thing you have to take into consideration in preparing these foods is the quarantine limitations at the other end. Those items that you know will not be allowed into the country (fruit, nuts, etc.) should be eaten during the flight before you land. Anything you make that you hope to sustain you during your first few days or during a layover should not contravene any import restrictions of the countries you’re stopping in however brief the layover.

      That means finding recipes that meet those guidelines and testing them BEFORE you go to see how long they remain palatable at room temperature (or freezing if you’re going to store some in your checked baggage).

      Browse through the cookbook section of your local library for food ideas. They usually have quite a selection of special or restricted diet recipes that you can photocopy. Hope that helps.


    2. Hi Janice,

      Erika L., one of your contributors, had the following to say about your question!

      “I am very limited food-wise and bring plantain chips, grimms pepperoni sticks, dried fruit like mango, apple, banana chips or pineapple and fruit bars or granola bars. I also bring seaweed and kale chips. Most of these things you could also make at home if you had time and a dehydrator. I also usually make a few hard boiled eggs to eat a protein at the airport before the flight as I always avoid eating at airports before flights. It would be terrible to have a delayed reaction on the airplane or miss the flight due to an anaphylactic reaction.”

  2. I have a severe allergy to white potatoes. That means fries, potato chips (and their miniscule crumbs between the seats), anything with potato starch and the worst part is steam if they are serving hot potatoes as part of a meal on long distance flights. Most people don’t understand that hot foods release their proteins into the air in the form of steam and the protein is what I am allergic to. There doesn’t have to be a smell and that is the one situation where I usually get blind-sided because someone walks behind me in a park with french fries or poutine.

    When I book a flight, I pay for my seat selection in advance so that I know I’m sitting as far from the kitchen area as possible.

    I PRE-BOARD with the kiddies (by showing the gate attendant my Medic Alert Card) so that I can have the attendants undivided attention before all the chaos of general boarding. That also gives them time to inform ALL the flight attendants during the brief period of relative quiet.

    I have learned that the flight attendants are thrilled (seriously) and grateful (because knowledge means they know what’s happening and what to do if I’m exposed) when they know IN ADVANCE of the plane taking off about your personal situation and how you handle it. They don’t want to have to figure it out when you’re gasping and/or unconscious in your seat.

    I have also been told that the washrooms have a separate airflow system so if they are serving hot potatoes, I can retreat into that area (they come and tell me they’re about to bring the food cart by) for a few minutes until the meals cool down as people eat them. Of course I bring my own food, carry 4 epi-pens (on my person, not in my luggage in the cargo hold), and have been wearing cotton gloves available in any pharmacy (as moisture gloves) to avoid the little potato chip crumbs and/or the residue from people who had a plate of fries before they boarded on the last flight and have rested their hands on the arm rests (especially children). Yes, I get stared at because it looks like I’m OCD to the extreme but heck, I’m a whole lot safer and can travel.

    I have had nothing but wonderful responses from various airlines (Air Canada, Westjet, Quantas). If it’s a short haul flight and they’re serving potato chips as a snack, the hostess will often just ask the area I’m sitting in, 3 rows up and 3 rows back, to refrain from eating them on the flight. That is with my consent. I have no problem with them making a public announcement because it is a chance for further education of the general public but sometimes there’s no need to inconvenience a whole plane.

    There will always be passengers who feel “inconvenienced” by being denied a food item for a short period of time. They have no idea how it feels to be denied that food item for a lifetime. I still wish for a plate of fries with ketchup and gravy, mashed potatoes with gravy (my favourite), or salt and vinegar potato chips. I’m 52 and the last time I had a french fry (just 1 – stole it off my sister’s plate), I was 13 and ended up in emergency faster than it took to write this paragraph.

    i figure I’ve made it this far and I’m not about to stop traveling now!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s